September 16, 2015

Important Takeaways from Instagram’s Newest Features

This week, I’ve been thinking quite a lot about Instagram. And you probably have been, too, due to the large amount of buzz the photo-sharing app has been getting lately. These mentions across multiple online news channels aren’t for naught, however. Instagram has actually pushed out a number of updates in the form of new features. And they have been doing so concurrently with the expansion of their ad business, which raises questions about how the timing of the launches of these new features correlates with that expansion. In this blog post, I will outline those enhancements I find most noteworthy, provide my two cents on each and end with an assessment of how these changes relate to the expansion of Instagram’s ad business.

Horizontal and Vertical Posts AT LAST! The square photo format, once required, has been abandoned, thrown to the wolves and left behind. At least, that’s what we thought would happen. But if you scroll down through your feed, you’ll note that for the most part, ads continue to follow the square format of yesteryear, despite Instagram’s watershed moment. And much more disappointing is that your followers (yes, those people whose posts you like and whom you message from time to time) are not actually embracing the new change as often as you thought they would.

It’s as if we have gotten used to Instagram’s restrictions, complacent with its rigid structure and happy with what we had been graciously given: photo-editing tools that lacked the option of changing the orientation and size of our posts. For so long, we felt like we were in full control of how we displayed our Instagram content. And now that we have the complete package and the door to self-expression has widened just a little bit more, we aren’t using it!

 Whether this is an issue relating to our familiarity with the square format or Instagram’s almost “parental” control is something I can’t quite put my finger on yet. It seems like everyone I follow, and of course I, too, still needs some time for adjusting. Maybe then we’ll feel comfortable abandoning InstaSize for the unfamiliar freedom of Instagram’s new image orientation feature.

“Send To” This new feature was actually the one I was most enthusiastic about. For years, we have been tagging our friends in comments on posts we find particularly relevant to them or just plain funny. Scrolling down our feeds, we can see hundreds, even thousands of comments, each with a handle or two followed by a laugh-cry emoji. We shamelessly add to these threads ourselves, not thinking of the amount of notifications the photo’s owner will receive as a result of our thirst for (over)sharing. And so, pretty soon, the tendency to over-share via the act of tagging your friends in comments produces what I read as an aberration on content that actually hinders the natural flow of our feed intake.

This, of course, presented a problem to the team at Instagram, one that they “fixed” with a new option now placed below every post alongside the “like” and “comment” icons. The solution allows you to directly send posts to users without having to comment. Not only does this eliminate the necessity for, say, embarrassingly posting a flirtatious comment (along with a friend’s handle) on James Franco’s most recent selfie, but it also encourages conversation within Instagram’s newly developed direct messaging feature.

Direct Messaging First of all, thank you Instagram for making emojis BIG AND BEAUTIFUL! Excuse my seemingly random excitement, but as a result of the expansion of Instagram’s direct messaging feature, we can now note each emoji’s unique characteristics. I mean… did you know that the rabbit has red eyes?

The optical trait of each emoji isn’t the only good thing worth noting about the newly embellished direct messaging feature. The main benefit is the ability to view direct messages as a continuous thread, rather than a series of comments to an image shared with multiple people. In other words, you can send a post from your feed to a friend, after which direct messaging becomes more like Facebook Messenger in the ways you interact with others: your messages are highlighted in blue while the others are gray, similar to iMessages on your iPhone and Mac. More than just an attempt at pushing Facebook Messenger out from its #1 spot as the most downloaded app, the newly expanded direct messaging feature has the effect of killing two birds with one stone. And I think that’s pretty rad of Instagram, considering Facebook’s already-established dominance in the social networking circuit.

My Assessment These updates seem to be more of a late response to existing issues and concerns about Instagram’s user experience rather than expansions to boost its ad business development. However, I would argue that these recent developments in the app’s features are indeed Instagram’s attempt to look good to marketers and bring in business. This is to say that while Instagram has become more user-friendly, the app as a product has also become more marketable and attractive to marketers looking to spend money on advertisements. Ultimately, by smoothing out the interface’s quirks and boosting revenue, Instagram can cover the costs of product development while:

  1. Expanding its ad business.
  2. Making the app more user-friendly.
  3. Improving its brand’s online presence.
All in all, I consider this to be very successful marketing. Not bad, Instagram!   This post was written by current Renegade intern Sam Oriach. You can follow him on Twitter @samoriach.